Saturday, May 14, 2011

"Socializing" Our Homeschooled Child

One question I get asked quite often is how we address the social aspect of homeschooling James and whether or not we're worried about it. My response is a bit lengthy, but I hope you'll bear with me as this is a subject I want to pay due respect to.

~Aquarium class field trip~

Now, depending on who's asking (or more accurately HOW they're asking) the topic of "socializing" James can be a bit touchy with me. For the sake of keeping things positive and because I will not get into a debate with anyone re this post, I'll avoid discussing the aspects of these questions which make me defensive. What I will say is that I think it's an inaccurate stereotype to assume that homeschooled children are "unsocialized". (I mean, seriously, in today's world, it seems nearly impossible to be anti-social.) I'll also side-step my thoughts on how some children are too "socialized" and not in a good way (think Facebook, texting, etc.).

~Learning about fish and boating from Uncle Peter~

With regard to the latter, I'd like to point out instead how mass communication has opened the doors to something positive for our children. Take blogs, for example: because so many of us are sharing our thoughts and ideas about teaching our children, more and more people are banding together to create mini teaching communities such as homeschool co-ops and educational playgroups. More and more families are opting to homeschool. Educational venues (such as museums) are aware of this and, in turn, there are many more of activities and opportunities being made available to children of all ages. Unless you flat out chose not to engage in these groups and events a homeschooling parent is hard pressed to avoid "socializing" their child.

Ok. That's my very scaled down spiel on "socialization". Now to answer your questions as it pertains to James.

~Arts & crafts day~

When my husband and I first discussed homeschooling our children indefinitely, we certainly took a hard look at the social aspect of school. We recalled and shared stories of our own social experiences throughout school and realized they did little to benefit us. For me, I was VERY preoccupied with socializing, particularly in my high school years, to the point my education and self-image suffered. I also recalled students in my school that were very smart, but because of that they were bullied, ostracized and criticized by our peers. Thankfully, some of them were able to ignore the cruel teasing, but I saw others fake stupidity just to be accepted into that society. For my husband, going to school outside of the home didn't help him overcome his shyness - rather the opposite.

~A field trip to the petting zoo~

Then we found out that even on this tiny island there are plenty of interactive activities available for families and children of all ages. There are camps, festivals, classes, family nights, etc. There's even a homeschooling group here that hosts all sorts of events year round! We quickly realized James (and his sibling(s)) would be in no danger of being "unsocialized".

~Good Friday kite festival~

I must point out that I am not one of those parents that runs around attending and enrolling my child in every little thing *just* for the sake of social interaction. I believe there is such a thing as over stimulating a person. There needs to be time to just be with yourself. Also, while James is inherently shy and prefers smaller groups, he is not this way because we are homeschooling him. It's just who he is and we're totally fine with that. I was the same way when I was his age and, even though I still consider myself shy, I can speak with anyone (and 'regular' school had nothing to do with that change, btw).

~A group visit to the fire station~

All that said, however, depending on the week/month/season, our schedule can be a bit busy at times. Once a week James attends an art class, a music class and a gymnastics class (all are "drop off' classes where he attends them without a parent). He also has tennis lessons with a large group of children once a week. I also host a weekly playgroup for our Meet-A-Mum-Association where caregivers and children gather for a couple hours of play. In that same week we might get together with a friend and go on a "field trip" to the aquarium or some other fun locale. Once a month James attends 2 more drop off classes one at the local aquarium/zoo and the other at the National Gallery where he truly learns about art and sketches to his heart's content. In that same month we'll hit the grocery store, a birthday party, a seasonal event, the library, restaurants, and wherever else day to day life and errands takes us. ALL of them real life social situations where James interacts with whomever is there - not just people in his age group. I think this is of great importance if by referring to "socialization" we mean we are teaching our children how to interact in a society. It's for that reason we do not speak for James - for example, when we go to a restaurant, HE orders his meal and drink, HE says please and thank you to the wait person. He's learning what it means to be an individual in our world.

~Paint your own pottery with friends~

I mentioned Bermuda has a homeschooling group (made up of about 200 families). We've only just joined it (James had to be 4 years old before we were 'allowed' to join) and so far I'm really impressed with all they have going on. Throughout the year and often on a recurring basis there are language groups, sports clubs, family fun days, tours, etc. Over the winter one family held an "Astronomy Class" at their home where families gathered together for a fun and educational evening of star gazing. I've heard some homeschooling groups in the States are even more amazing and host clubs, dances (like Prom), and graduation ceremonies. We look forward to joining one of those communities when our time in Bermuda is over.

~James doing the long jump on Sports Day~

We recently attended the homeschooling Sports Day whereby all the families gathered together to watch our children compete in fun races and games. Every child got a ribbon, no matter what place they got. I was so proud of my shy little guy who participated in every event for his age and racked up 4 ribbons!

~Chilling with a good friend~

So there you go. I hope this post answers your questions. And I hope those persons who read this blog and do not homeschool know that I am in no way shape or form attacking them or ridiculing their way of 'socializing' their child. To each their own, I say. We're all doing our best and what we think is right for our child(ren).

~Thank you for your comments!~


lsnellings said...

That question makes me defensive also. I usually point out that socialization actually means conforming to societal norms which is exactly what I don't want for my children! Socializing and socialization are not the same thing and my kids get plenty of the former through playdates, church and extracurricular activities.

This was a great post! I have really enjoyed reading your blog. My personal teaching style is not very "montessori" but I love reading others ideas!

Anonymous said...

I faced similar question from many of my friends. I agree with you too much socializing is not favorable to kids. One way for us to provide socializing for our daughter is attending Co-op school and not only she has fun..I have great experience too.

Unknown said...

Very excellent post!! My son is a shy person by nature as am I! I went to public school my entire life and no amount of socializing did me any good. I never "got over" being shy. I appreciate public schools and what they offer children, but I think that homeschooling is right for us. Thanks for sharing. I love the bits of encouragement I can get from other mommas like me!!!

MellowMouse said...

Thanks for posting this! I agree, times a million!

MellowMouse said...

Thanks so much for posting this! It's a hot topic these days and I agree with you 110%!!

Julie said...!!! Great job...your little guy is adorable and all the pics look like so much fun!

RockerMom said...

This is a great post! This question bugs us because Robbie is a naturally outgoing person and can converse with anyone. He already "socializes".

My husband, like yours, is inherently shy. I was too worried about "socializing" in school, too. We both feel that he will be better socialized as a homeschooler than we were in school.

I'm really hoping to get involved with local groups when Robbie is old enough.

Your post was very timely for us, as the public Pre-K dates are looming in the near future.

Thank you for giving me a bit of a needed confidence boost as I prepare for the inevitable confrontation (yes, they will be) with family members and friends. :)

Stephanie said...

Hi Mari Ann,
I really think that you are so right about socialization! It is a really big catch phrase when poeple talk about homeschooling. I was homeschooled all the way through High School, and all though my mom offered me the opportunity to go to school (sometimes even threatened to put me there lol) I never wanted to go. Sure I missed prom, but did it affect my adult life, no! Like you said, homeschooled kids have the ablilty to talk and interact with poeple of all ages, and that is really what life is all about! Thanks for sharing, and Happy Schooling!

City Sister said...

Children should be at school to learn not to socialize is my standard line when asked how we "socialize" our children. We make sure our children learn positive social behaviors, which are rarely demonstrated at typical schools where it is cool to be rude and mean often times.

Alison @ Educational Creations said...

To each their own ... ( I should say this to my sister-in-law) ... It takes all kinds to make the world turn :)

Lovely post :)

Joyful Learner said...

Wow. Very impressive. We are homeschooling but struggling a bit right now. Apparently, our daughter's need to socialize is greater than mine and this causes some tension. I try to be active so she is with friends regularly but it wears me down because I'm an introvert. I thought she was one too but as she's gotten older, her need to socialize have grown. What would you recommend?

Nicole {tired, need sleep} said...

Very well written, Mari-Ann. I'm sure you know where I stand on this issue.;)

I agree so much with your statement about some children being *too* socialized.

And I agree also with your comments about needing time to ourselves. I feel that it is so easy to value socializing to the point that we, and our children, never have time to reflect on what we've learned or what we think and believe - never getting the chance to really know ourselves. This can become a real problem!

Yes, James is who he is and "regular school" won't change that - not for the better anyway, in my opinion.

Thanks for a great post!

Ashlea said...

Great post Mari-Ann! My husband and I are thinking about homeschooling our children, and we have thought a lot about socialization as well. I think you are exactly right; socialization includes all ages, not just kids the same age as our children. Your other point is bang on as well; there are so many activities and events to get involved in that it is almost hard not to be social!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject.

Kim said...

Awesome post! Thank you for sharing. I agree with you completely - there are a TON of opportunities to socialize our children while homeschooling. I've not officially begun yet (my son turns 5 in two days and this fall will be a homeschooling kindergartener) but I have done some at home preschool work with him & am part of a homeschool group on
I hope that this blog entry as well as other things like this that others find online will allow everyone to see that homeschooling is so much different now days (better, even) than decades ago and socialization isn't an issue any longer for the vast majority. In many ways, homeschooling socialization can be more positive even than institutional schooling.

Kim said...

Great post! Thank you for sharing this. I hope this opens the eyes of many (as well as the wealth of information elsewhere online) to see that for the vast majority of homeschoolers now days, socialization isn't difficult to come by nor is it inferior. From what I understand, homeschooling is so different now days than it was a couple of decades ago and it is so much easier.
I believe in many ways that socializing opportunities as a homeschooler are more realistic & positive than with institutional schooling.

FroggyMama said...

I couldn't have said it better myself. Our little man has developed a great social ability to interact with people of all ages, something I never did well when young and in regular school. I'm so grateful for the opportunities he has to meet all kinds of people, and socialization is something I just don't worry about! I wish my family would stop worrying about it, though - perhaps I'll direct them here, you discuss it so well. :)

bug said...

I think people who ask these questions don't know about homeschooling groups, their activities and field trips. And how common they are. I think people think that your house and two (three, nine, whatever) kids are the whole "school," cooped up and restrictive.

They just don't know. I sure didn't, until I started looking into it.

Annicles said...

We get the socialisation question a lot from prospective parents when they look around the school I teach in because it is very small - 35 children aged 4-11.

We always tell them that quantity is not as important as quality of social experiences available. A playground with 200 children aged between 4-and 11 is not a good social experience. It is a lesson in survival.

In my opinion, schools are there to give a child a certain type of social experience and it takes a good school to provide it. They need to be able and willing to guide and help children make and sustain relationships. School cannot provide the whole of a child's social experience any more than any other individual institution or group can (including family) and it should not be expected to. I know of parents who organise nothing for their child at the weekend or the holidays because they think that they get it all at school.

I also think it is crazy that society is even worried about it when a child is James' age. Simply meeting people and doing interesting things, getting out and about is the most valuable social interaction a child can have for quite some time.

Anonymous said...

I homeschooled when I was a kid, so I know from personal experience that homeschooling is not anti-social.

Even though it seems like more people are homeschooling these days, it still feels like the general public just doesn't understand that homeschooling is fundamentally different than traditional school. They get locked into the mental picture of sitting at a desk and imagine doing that all by themselves.

I enjoyed your post. :)

Unknown said...

I've also found that homeschooled children are more likely to be comfortable interacting with kids and adults of all ages. Where the traditional public school kid is surrounded every day by kids only their age, my kids interact with people of all ages and walks of life. Which I think is actually better socialization.

Jeanne said...

Great post! I think to often people just hear home school and don't give it a chance.

I wanted to say that your thought about having your son order at a restaurant stuck a cord with me. I know that this is not at all what this post was addressing. But all too often I find myself answering for my kids when I swore up and down before they were born I would NEVER do that. How that my oldest is three he is feeling comfortable to talk to others openly. Thanks for the reminder!

Boy Crazy said...

Um. Yeah. That's the most annoying question about homeschooling that I am asked. And you made SUCH great points!!! AWESOME!!! LOVE THIS!!!! When I am asked that I just say, "Have you SEEN the size of my family??? We ARE own own social network!" :)

fjkelly said...

Great post. The socialization question always annoys me too. When I'm feeling particularly snarky, I ask "socialized to what"? and make the questioner grapple with exactly what it is they want to their children to socialize to. The "mainstream", a Disneyfied-life, cliques and bullying, to become good little worker bees...the list goes on.

Anonymous said...

Very well said! I'm sure so many others will appreciate your opinion on this much debated topic. It's obvious you have provided so many fun, educational, and social opportunities for James. Who would have thought your small island would offer SO much! Lucky you :)

Vanessa said...

Love this post.

We don't officially homeschool, but for various reasons our son isn't in preschool, and we get that question too. Socialization does not have to mean tossing a bunch of kids together. Our son has gone everywhere with us since he was two days old. He can talk up an adult better than some themselves, he can communicate with kids his own age, and he is extremely empathetic to those younger than him. He learned all that by doing.

Big mamma frog said...

Ah yes, the S word! Funny how so many people ask about it when you home educate, as if mixing with 30 same-age children all day for years in school is a good example of 'socialisation' :)

Joyful learner - I sympathise. There are times when I would be happy just to chill at home and instead my kids want to have a multitude of play dates. Mostly we compromise - one day a week is always reserved as a 'home day' and weekends are kept as family-only time where poss. If my kids want to meet up with lots of friends during the week I invite them all over on the same day if poss. Sometimes it's better to have one manic day than children over every day! If your child is old enough can she not just be dropped at someone's house? We often do chilcare swaps among our local Home edders.

Aunt Annie said...

It's sad that people feel the need to judge others' choices. We're all doing the best we can.

I found your post very interesting food for thought, as someone who went through the school system and also sent her child through the school system. I was a very self-contained child and I am asking myself, what would I have missed if my (teacher) mother had been able to home-school me instead of having to work herself?

The answer is mixed. I would have avoided the vicious bullying, and so would my son; I would have avoided the poor standard of some of the teaching. I would have had more time to nurture my talent and love for the arts, and spent less time poring over lessons I already understood in class.

But on the other hand, I would also have missed out on meeting at least one life-long friend and several teacher-mentors who have changed my life for the better. Perhaps you can cover that using the group activities you mention, though I do feel that my relationship with my best friend of over 40 years is stronger for having been side by side every school day.

And I suspect that I would have found reaching out to others even harder than I already do, as I would have remained surrounded by 'safe' people instead of learning how to deal with 'difficult' people without taking their jibes and nastiness personally.

So, question- how do you teach your home-schooled children to deal with 'difficult' people, given that they have a constant opportunity to just withdraw?

Olives and Pickles said...

We wanted C to go to a Waldorf school two mornings a week ..we went to the tours and started to fill the paper work but WE BACKED UP and decided it is not time yet.Our principal reason to tried tos ent her to a program was "socializacion" and dealing with"problems" on her own...But we thought she is very sociable goodness..twice a weel a trip to the library..she has ballet/tap classes..and next month starts violin lessons..playdates once a week..zoo trips..and of course we take her to the park very often...WHAT ELSE do we need to do??We are doing what we think is right for her..she doesn't need to go to a school to learn to socialize..people give us a break!! I AM A PROUD HOMESCHOOLER MOMMY AND MY CHILD IS A HAPPY CHILD JUST LIKE OUR ADORABLE JAMES : )

Faith said...

I would like to say how much I enjoyed reading your post as well as all the wonderful comments. Someone questioned how homeschoolers deal with difficult people, when given the opportunity to just separate from them. To answer that, I must simply say that our children deal with "mean" people on a daily basis- at the grocery store, at the park, at church (gasp!)and yes- even at homeschool gatherings and co-op. This is just a part of life, unfortunately and there is no ecaping it. I do feel though that those situations in which our children see those sorts of behaviors are more "real life" as opposed to a classroom full of same aged children. They can then learn how to deal with them and learn from them. Thank you to everyone for sharing!

Big mamma frog said...

Aunt Annie, you might find this post here
Although it doesn't directly answer your question about HE kids and 'difficult' people, I think it perhaps responds to your initial assumption that just because we HE that our children only have contact with nice, cosy people. On the contrary our kids often have a huge range of experiences and alot of freedom to mix and learn from others who are not like them.

Being in a (mostly misunderstood0 minority group (as home edders are in the UK) my children are often faced with questions, ignorance and occasionally prejudice about their way of life. But I've always been proud at the way they have dealt with it.

Fwiw I don't teach my kids how to deal with difficult people (I don't actually teach my kids at all!), but I do try to be a good - or at least honest lol - example. My children spend alot of time around adults and children of mixed age and gender, and witness a whole range of emotions and interactions, not just those between same-age classmates. I'm with them for much of the day so they don't see a sanitised version of me or my parenting - it's warts and all! :) From this experience they learn that relationships are complicated, that people are different and can have different opinions yet still be tolerant of each other, or in many cases be good friends with each other. They see adults resolve arguments or fall out and make up. They also know I eat too much chocolate lol.

I also think HE has given my children time to grow into themselves. They are therefore very confident (far more confident than I was as a child lol) and have a strong inner core of self-belief that enables them to choose how to respond to less pleasant people without taking it personally or feeling the need to follow a peer group for approval. Sometimes that does mean that they withdraw, walk away, but as a positive choice, rather than through fear, shame or intimidation.

Leigh said...

Mar, I wanted to make some sort of witty comment about high school socializing and am still found wanting. I think WE socialized rather nicely. ;-)

Anonymous said...

amen sister!! :-)

Grace said...

It is really a ridiculous question, isn't it??? If you know anything about homeschool you would know how silly it is. I've finally resorted to saying: "Have you met my children?!" (in a kind of snarky voice!)

Kaleena said...

Let me preface this by saying if my child wanted to be homeschooled I would homeschool him. And that I firmly believe that there is nothing inherently wrong with homeschooling and its just as much a valid choice as anything else. There are positives and negatives to every schooling choice.

However, the small liberal arts university where I attended attracted a high number of homeschooled students. And I can't say that I agree that it is a completely unfounded stereotype. Is it unfounded that all homeschooled children have to be unsocialized? yes.

One of my roommates was homeschooled and I saw her struggle through social situations that I certainly never saw any of our other peers struggle through. In fact quite a few of her behaviors reminded me of things I witnessed in junior high she was just experiencing them much later in life.

That coupled with the fact that I had a very good friend (who was homeschooled and very socially graceful) used to swear that he could pick out a homeschooled person within 60 seconds of meeting them, something I saw him do with incredibly accuracy.

Do I think socialization can be a problem with homeschool students? yes. Just as B12 deficiencies can be a problem with vegetarians (how we're choosing to raise our child) do people sometimes challenge us on this as if we've never thought of it before, yes. But my son drinks kombucha and occasionally eats fish and never on any of his annual anemia test (B12 deficiencies also affect iron) has there ever been any hint of a problem.

Are these ridiculous questions? Well only in that I think they're ridiculously tacky to ask but the truth of it is that sometimes it can be a problem.

Nicole {tired, need sleep} said...

I've been thinking about this post, Mari-Ann, and would like your opinion about something I've experienced (if you don't mind, and have the time!)...
I feel very much as you do - that my child is receiving all kinds of opportunities to socialize and I don't feel that he is lacking in social skills (for his age); but when I get remarks about not sending him to a "real" preschool, and I take the time to list all that we do socially, I sometimes get remarks about how the problem is not that he isn't getting these opportunities, but that *his mother is with him* for all of these. Somehow there's the idea that he needs to be away from me in order to become his own person. I'm not quite sure how to answer this, although I react strongly to it on an emotional level...
Any thoughts? :)

Jen said...

Well stated Mari-Ann!! You are CLEARLY providing a well balanced life for James. He'll come away from it all smarter and better socialized than kids that go to school outside the home because he'll have had one on one attention with his studies and he'll have met a huge variety of people along the way. GREAT JOB, mommy!!!

Barb said...

Truly loved reading this post. I plan on homeschooling and have been faced with the question more times than I can count. I too find it offensive at times. Reading your post has only reiterated my own beliefs.

Monica said...

I enjoyed reading all of the comments, so I thought I'd leave one too. :) My children are 3.5, almost 2, and littlest due in October, and we do preschool at home and are planning to homeschool. I do think children need to be away from their parents and spend time with other children...eventually. Can you imagine what an 18 year old would be like, who was always with his mom? But, of course, that won't happen...eventually, naturally, my children will want (and need) to play sports, take music classes, hang out with friends, etc - without me. I don't think forcing it early is all that important, or worth it. Like you, we do plenty of activities outside the home. Most are with me, with a few exceptions. I will admit that I am sometimes tempted to look into full-time schools for little ones...but that's only when the little ones have worn out this pregnant mom and I'm grumpy! ;) I'm finding it's really important for me to be at peace with our decisions and not try to duplicate what would happen in a school as we begin homeschooling.

Mélanie said...

Wonderful post, thank you! I completely agree with you on all counts. I homeschool my children (ages 5 and 2) and I get asked that question often. It helps me to remember that I had that same question myself before knew much about homeschooling. I try to answer as patiently as I can, without getting defensive or attacking the public school system (no easy feat!) I love your blog and read it often, you have great ideas for games, crafts and activities. It's so nice to read some inspirational words this morning about the "socialization" of homeschooled children :)

Jen said...

Thanks so much for sharing your point of view. My husband and I are researching the topic and I learned a lot by reading this post. Currently, my husband and I have different opinions about Homeschooling for the reason of socialization. I really appreciate your thoughts and I completely agree with you. Its nice to see so many woman who have commented supporting homeschool. I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels this way and that I'm not weird for feeling this way too. Thanks again and I love your blog!

Becky Pfenn said...

Great post thanks for this! I really needed a gentle reminder about why I'm homeschooling!

tiarastantrums said...

this sort of makes me laugh - I home school my three children (10, 8 & 5) and we actually had/have to say NO to so many opportunities with our co-ops and groups! We are so busy with activities it is insane. I have to remind my kids constantly that we actually do have to have school at home sometime during the week! hee hee My kids attended a private Christian school up until this year (just not good enough I have to say) and they are way more "socialized" this year as homeschooler than they ever were attending a private school!

Unknown said...

Hi! I live in Bermuda and would love to connect with the homeschooling co-op here. Help a sista out! :)

Unknown said...

Sometimes, I think what people are actually wanting to ask when they bring up socialization is "aren't you worried about your child being cool?"


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